Study: Death Penalty Flaws Still Exist Group Wants Lawmakers to Abolish Capital Punishment in Illinois

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Byline: Christy Gutowski Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer

cgutowski@@dailyherald.com

Eight years after Illinois' death penalty moratorium was imposed, many systemic flaws that led to wrongful convictions still exist.

That was the main thrust of an activist group's annual report released Thursday that called upon lawmakers to abolish capital punishment.

The report cites 31 death penalty cases across Illinois in the past five years that ended in acquittals on murder offenses, including six in 2007.

Despite lauded reforms, including a defendant's improved access to quality lawyers, the statistic highlights a continuing failure of the system in screening capital cases, the group insists.

The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty reviewed 191 pending death penalty cases in 2007, when three men were sentenced to die. More than 80 percent of the prosecutions are taking place in Cook County.

The 2007 report notes:

- An examination of the 31 acquittals sheds light on ongoing problems, such as unreliable confessions and tainted witnesses.

- Less than half the 85 suggested reforms are in place.

- The committee charged with evaluating their effectiveness had its funding cut.

- Fewer death sentences are being handed down - an average of three a year, compared to about 15 in the mid-1990s.

- The state allocated nearly $73 million to a capital litigation trust fund in five years.

- And four of the 13 men on death row last year had mental health issues. Most were young, black and poor.

The group also argues the system is too arbitrary. For example, a DuPage County jury last year imposed death upon Laurence Lovejoy of Aurora for the rape and murder of his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Erin, in Aurora. But a Cook County jury opted to spare the life of Juan Luna, convicted of killing seven people in the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders. …